You go to your library to check out Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere because everybody and their mother and their mother’s mother is talking about it. The librarian tells you the physical copy is out and isn’t due back for another three weeks. Hey, you have an iPad! You decide you’ll just take out the e-book. Libraries let you do that now, in 2017. Um, what. You’ve been WAITLISTED!? How do you get waitlisted for an e-book? It possesses no physical space!
The thing is the publishers. Many have a policy where they only allow libraries to lend one e-book at a time, although services like OverDrive do allow some books to be lent out multiple times. At my local library, for example, If I want to take out John Green’s newest book Turtles All the Way Down, there are sixteen e-books available, but each one has seven people waiting for it. It would probably take most people a week or two to finish it, so I’d have to wait between forty-nine to ninety-eight days to read the new book. He’ll probably have another book out at that point (just kidding).
Take a step back, though. Those sixteen copies I mentioned are not just my library, but my whole country. So the county shares only sixteen copies of one of October’s biggest books. Why so few? Because libraries are often charged between $100 to $200 per copy. That means my county paid between $1,600 to $3,200 for sixteen copies of a single book.
The publisher’s logic for pricing e-books this way is that multiple people share it, and e-books won’t wear out the way physical copies do. It makes sense in a way, but it seems odd for a library to pay $72 for one copy of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, while someone on Amazon can buy their own copy for $9.99.
Because libraries have to pay so much for a single copy of an e-book, they’ve began teaming up with other libraries to gather a proper e-book catalogue. The problem is this makes waitlist times way worse because people are now competing with people from far away to read an e-book.
It’s an issue for taxpayers too, since they are paying for these exorbitantly priced e-books. To be fair, though, consumers do tend to think e-books are cheaper to make than they really are. A lot of the costly aspects of producing physical books have to do with workforce, workspace, design, and general administrative costs–not the cost of paper. That overhead isn’t avoided when making e-books. They’re still expensive to make.
Still, publishers seem to be getting greedy when it comes to libraries. Anyway, next time you have to wait for an e-book, which is basically a totally nonphysical abstract concept, you’ll know all the drama and greed that went into it. Ah, things.
Feature Image by James Tarbotton Via Unsplash